Game 9, @ Oklahoma City: Spurs 117-104 (Record 8-1) RAGE +1
It's very bittersweet being an Eagles fan these days. They're probably going to win the Super Bowl, but it's because their best player is a convicted dog murderer. I miss the Randall Cunningham days.
The Giants won the World Series (I may remind y'all of this a few times over the coming months), but they did it without Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia.
The way things are going for me, the Spurs will win it all in June, but an anvil will fall on Manu's head Wile. E. Coyote style before the deciding game.
Oh, also, Manoli's 17-year old cousin, who lives with us now, got her hips pierced. She willingly paid somebody $100 to jab metal studs into her abdomen, and gushed that she got a $20 discount for getting both sides done, which to me seems like paying somebody to punch you in the face and then bragging that you paid only half as much for a second punch.
I didn't even know it was possible to get your hips pierced, but I feel very old.
This girl has an annoying habit of saying "B-T-Dubs" when she means "by the way." I don't know why she does this. It doesn't save you any syllables. How is it an abbreviation if it takes you just as much effort to say?
I'm never gonna have a kid.
Speaking of weird teenage girls...
This would be what Matt Bonner would be like, if Matt Bonner was a Japanese girl. I like the guy afterward, rolling up his sleeves like he's gonna top that.
Okay, so because of the stupid Niners I didn't get to watch this puppy live. I cheated and looked at the box score, and aside from Rocket's eye-popping three point shooting (and of course Manu's stat line, since that's always what I check out first), what stood out for me was Timmeh's numbers: 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2-of-7 from the field, 23 minutes.
As my hero Ray Ratto would say, "Oog."
I was all prepared to play the role of the curmudgeon (my word; you may prefer "turd in the punchbowl") and ruin an otherwise fabulous Spurs win by bemoaning the demise of the mighty Tim Duncan, lamenting that he can no longer play at all on SEGABABAs and declare that Pop should put him out of his misery by just sitting Tim in those situations. I was ready to throw a bucket of ice water on your jubilation with the mother of "Yeah, but" and anticipating the scorn that would follow. I told myself it was a service I was born to provide, being the bearer of bad news.
But then I sat down and actually watched the game.
Tim Duncan: Not too shabby.
To my eye he didn't look too stiff or creaky, and he was active enough to block three shots. He didn't get many rebounds because in the first half with OKC's hot shooting and their non-stop parade to the freebie line, there weren't all that many rebounds to be had. Offensively Tim had some good looks, the kind he has every other game. He wasn't struggling to get his shot off nor was he taking poor, contested shots or getting them swatted back in his face. He took the shots he wanted to take and they happened to just not go in (pretty much the same story with Manu, really).
So how do you explain 6 and 4 in 23 minutes then? Simple.
Other people were playing better.
That's it. No conspiracies, no hand wringing, no panic alarms. Duncan sat for the final 15:22 of the game because by sheer, random dumb luck, Pop stumbled into a more effective lineup and that's it. The score was 79-77 to the good when Tim checked out, meaning the Spurs finished up 38-27, as a Bonneriffic time was had by all. I don't think the game was indicative of the kind of stat line we should expect from Duncan on SEGABABAs going forward anymore than I think the 6 points and 6 six boards he put up against the Clippers and the 7 points and 6 caroms versus the Sixers were par for the course.
It's obvious that Tim is no longer a 20-10 guy. The Spurs are a guard driven team and really have been for some time now. It's fine for Duncan to be the third option on offense and perfectly normal when Tony and Manu are healthy. The Spurs have plenty of guys who can score. At this stage, what he gives us defensively is more important. That's where he has to show up every night.
On offense, he's more of a security blanket. If the guards are cold or there's a certain match-up to exploit (lookin' at you, Phoenix) Duncan's inside game is a valuable tool to have in your belt. Most of the time though, he'll be a slightly more fluid version of our other bigs, hitting open jumpers from the free throw line like Dice and getting some put-backs like Blair. His passing in the hi-lo game is still quite good.
Duncan's quiet night was perfectly in keeping with all the other developments of the game, where once again the Spurs went out of their way to show that they are no longer the team they've been. They scored 117 points on 41% shooting in a 48 minute game, which is simply unheard of for them. Further consider that the Thunder only had 12 turnovers and that the Spurs managed just 10 fast break points. The 13 offensive boards they got is a good number, but certainly not an obscene amount.
So where did all these points come from?
Well, they continued their season-long impersonation of the 2005 Suns, canning 11-of-20 from downtown, with of course Rocket nailing all seven of his attempts. The Spurs have been a quality three point shooting team pretty much since 2003 by my selective memory, but never like this. They're shooting a ludicrous 44 percent as a team from deep, easily ahead of the second best team, the Lakers, who are at 41.4%. Of course that number will go down as the season goes on, but if they can keep it around 40, the Spurs are gonna win *a lot* of games.
By my count the Spurs have just five guys who can knock 'em down with James Anderson hurt (Gino, Rocket, Neal, Hill, RJ) so it's easy to understand why they waived Gee today because ideally you'd like six or seven of 'em on your roster if you're gonna be a three point shooting team. But the Spurs have compensated for their lack of quantity with quality because they have all three of the necessary ingredients you need for an NBA team to get open looks: 1) Guards who can penetrate and kick, 2) A big with a respectable post game who is both willing and capable of passing it with precision, and 3) Shooters who are unselfish enough to rotate the ball around for even better shots when those opportunities present themselves. Neal and Rocket kind of jack 'em up, but the other three are really good about passing up good looks for better ones.
Also, in Bonner, the Spurs have that bonus, and ultra-rare fourth quality, a guy who is often guarded by opposing power forwards who are unused to extending far out defensively and reluctant to do so. It's pretty much why he's in the NBA, lest we forget.
The fifth element, our own little Leeloo, is Manu, who can get himself threes without any help by doing that crossover step-back move that he's so fond of. I'm almost positive his percentage is much better off the catch, but every once in a while to see him bury one right in a guy's mug, like he did to Durant on Sunday to kill off the Thunder.
Three pointers were only a part of the story though. There was also the free throw shooting, where they were a superb 34-of-38 (89.5%). For the season the Spurs rank sixth at 79.6%, which is insane for them. The team we know and love has traditionally hovered closer to 26th, if not lower.
Here's our free throw percentages and rankings in what I like to call the Manu Era (aka the Golden Age of Basketball), as well as our rankings in attempts.
'09-10 .740 24th 24.0 Attempts T-18th
'08-09 .761 19th 20.0 Attempts 30th
'07-08 .761 15th 21.6 Attempts 27th
'06-07 .751 17th 24.1 Attempts 24th
'05-06 .702 28th 23.1 Attempts T-28th
'04-05 .724 26th 25.9 Attempts 16th
'03-04 .681 29th 25.2 Attempts 10th
'02-03 .725 26th 26.8 Attempts T-5th
Contrast those numbers to the current season, where as I said our .796 clip ranks us sixth (.001 behind the Blazers for fifth) and even more importantly our 27.2 attempts per game ranks us eighth. I'm not sure which number is more surprising, to be honest. Five Spurs are averaging between 3.5 and 5.6 attempts per game, which doesn't sound like much compared to Durant or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum over at Miami, but is pretty impressive when you add 'em all up. Also, it helps that Manu, Blair, Tony and Hill are all shooting the highest percentage of their careers, by a significant margin. It adds up.
It's true that I didn't particularly enjoy coming home from a wretched penalty-marred football game to watch a first quarter where the two teams combined for 33 free throw attempts (14-of-16 for OKC, 15-of-17 for us), but our early work at the line kept us from being blown out early when the Thunder simply couldn't miss a shot and I think it's important that we realize that. Whatever this team has lost in defense, they've gained on the other end. For better or worse, I think we're a lot like the ultra-deep '94-95 Spurs, though I hope we're a lot mentally tougher, better coached and that we play with more testicular fortitude when it matters.
Defensively I think the work of Hill and Jefferson on Westbrook and Durant cannot be overlooked. They were both solid, as was the whole team when it came to switching. I can't believe we not only survived with a tinyball lineup where Bonner was the only "big" but it somehow worked. However, I think it needs to be pointed out that contrary to popular opinion, all three of our big runs in the second half (14-4 to start the third, 7-1 late in that quarter and 10-1 early in the fourth) came with two bigs on the floor, the first one with Tim and Blair and the latter two with Rocket and Dice.
While what actually transpired probably is a hundred times more technical and nuanced than my layman's view of the game, to me it looked like the young guys on the Thunder fell apart once the Spurs punched them in the mouth to start the second half. Blair was eating Green alive underneath the boards, the same way Kevin Love humiliated STAT the other night and it would've gotten ugly if DeBeast didn't get himself in foul trouble. Once MudButt started hitting some threes, OKC completely disintegrated and became a completely iso, jump shooting team. I mean, they already were, but more so. We did what they do, but better, which warmed my heart at the memory of the '05 Spurs.
And while we're here, a quick word about the Thunder. I like these guys, I really do. Durant is about as likable superduperstar as we have in the league, and I'm fond of Harden and Westbrook as well, to a lesser degree. I love the way Sam Presti has built and is continuing to shape the roster, and there doesn't seem to be a prick in the bunch. I've said before that if the Spurs can't win it all, I'd be perfectly happy for them to lift the trophy.
But right now I think they're pretty soft. There's a fine line between teammates liking each other and enjoying each other's company and acting like a 16th seed in the NCAA tournament, and I think the Thunder have well crossed it. A guy hits the floor and four other guys scurry over to pick him up like he's a potato chip under the five second rule. There are prolonged pregame dance rituals during the intros and just a crazy amount of hugging, backslapping and general fraternizing. Most of it is goofy stuff and I don't think it's phony or showboating, the way LeBron's Cavs were with all that fake camera nonsense, but at the same time I think these guys are a bit too happy and friendly on the court.
Call me an old-fashioned miserable joyless bastard if you will, but I think to win and win big in the NBA you need a team of hard men (not that way, you perverts). Even if your team is filled with perfectly sweet, decent fellows the other 21 hours they're not on the court, during games they have to be all business. Like Bruce in his heyday and Manu at his irritating best, they need to be able to intentionally plant an elbow to somebody's solar plexus while making it appear accidental. They need to pat their opponents on the back after those elbows to show the refs and the fans that they're good guys and truly sorry for what happened while thinking to themselves "and I'll be truly sorry when I do it to him again two minutes later."
Basketball is a contact sport, especially during the playoffs and right now I don't think the Thunder get that. They're a lot like the Heat, trying to out-talent teams, only without being assholes about it. It's not going to work for them in the long run unless they change their mentality and get serious.
I think Ibaka can be a hard player. I saw he had a big game at Utah the other night and if they make him their starter and play him big minutes he'll solve a lot of their issues. He was easily their best player against the Spurs. There wasn't a close second. Beyond him I think Sefolosha and Collison have it in them and that Harden can go either way. Mostly though the potential is there in Westbrook. He's got to be the leader of this team, not Durant. You can see it in Westbrook's face and body language that he can be nastier, that he wants to be nastier, but he's somewhat handcuffed by Durant's status and insistence in fostering a Kumbaya mentality on the team. As I said, I like Durant quite a bit, but I don't think his way can work. It never has in the history of this game.
Your Three Stars (with apologies to Tony, RJ and Blair):
3. George Hill. Yeah he shot 1-of-10, but it was his best defensive game in forever and he was involved in everything with five assists, four rebounds and three steals. His +19 wasn't an accident and we wouldn't have won without him.
2. Manu Ginobili. Classic Manu in many respects. He can't throw it into the ocean for three quarters, then scores 10 in the fourth. Had two assists to Bonner to silence the building and one of his own to seal it. And only one turnover!
1. Matt Bonner. Holy mackerel. He wasn't even that open for most of them, but his release is so quick. Was that the first time "quick" and "Matt Bonner" have been used in the same sentence? I was impressed that he held his own underneath the glass. Still, would it have been too much to ask if after the seventh one he did that "I have massive balls" dance that Kobe Bryant ripped off from Sam Cassell who ripped it off Isuro Tanaka in Major League 2? C'mon Rocket. I'd retire the first star in your honor.
Up Next: Wednesday Vs. Chicago Bulls (5-3). The march to 73-9 (ha ha) continues with a tough home contest against a very deep Bulls team. They're ranked in the top five in scoring, rebounding and assists. Derrick Rose is a terrible match-up for us and as with Durant we pretty much have to hope he's not feeling particularly frisky and is content to take -- and miss -- jumpers. Joakim Noah can give Timmy fits and is second in the league in rebounding. Carlos Boozer is out with a broken hand, but they haven't really missed him because their forward tandem of Luol Deng and Taj Gibson have been outstanding.
The Bulls do have some weaknesses, however. They don't shoot the three particularly well, as Deng and Ashton Kutcher are the only two guys on the team who can make 'em, and they're awful at freebies (71%) so hack away, Tiago. And for some bizarre reason they're starting "The Centerpiece" at shooting guard, so Manu should be good for 40, 45 easy. Also, as I type this, sentence, right now, this very moment as my fingers are hitting the k-e-y-s, they're engaged with the Rockets so tomorrow will be a SEGABABA for them, while we've had two days off to recover from our pillow fight at the OK Corral.
I am curious to see how my boy Omer Asik will do. 3.8/3.5/0.5 blocks isn't too bad for 13 minutes per game. I think the coaches should just have him and Leg post up against one another for a half and see what happens.
As you've no doubt noticed, the road win at OKC puts us at +1 on the RAGE-o-meter, which frankly I never dreamed would happen. I won't be too disappointed if they give it right back against the Bulls, but I'd rather they don't.